Christopher Cook - Get Unstuck. Reclaim Your Purpose. Win Today.

Get Unstuck. Reclaim Your Purpose. Win Today.

How to Truly Forgive After Betrayal

Unforgiveness and offense is bait that will keep you trapped in a self-constructed prison of isolation, depression, and unfulfilled potential. But there is a way out!

I wish I would’ve seen it coming. I wish I wouldn’t have been so quick to open my heart so transparently and with such naïveté. I wish I would’ve seen his penchant for cold-hearted manipulation.

I wish I could’ve protected myself.

After years of enjoying a thriving, life-giving relationship, the house built by trust and mutuality—the one that was once “home”—had burned to the ground in mere minutes. And like a dagger to my spine, I lay limp in a cold sweat of chaos and confusion.

The timing could not have been worse, either. Only nine months after the most traumatic loss of my life, I got hit while I was down. It was a sucker-punch. Soon after, with heart pounding, blood-curdling rage, I arose from my knockout and exploded in pain to a mentor. I was so mad that I couldn’t feel my facial muscles as I spewed a stew of verbal assault.

Jab, jab, right hook.

I used words I’ve never used and created adjectives and conjunctions out of said words that would make a primary school English teacher’s head spin. It was pretty impressive. Expecting a partner in crime for my well-plotted revenge, I sat and listened to my mentor’s targeted, truth-filled words. “Chris, you have every right to feel the way you do. His unconscionable actions were completely wrong—probably even unethical.” Dang straight, I thought. He continued, “But you don’t have a right to hold onto unforgiveness. You must forgive.”

You’ve got to be kidding me. Forgive? Now?

Bull. Crap.

The Judas Kiss

Maybe you’re familiar with a situation like mine. Heck, think about it right now. Perhaps you remember the person you poured your heart out to. Someone in whom you placed high esteem and respect. Someone you wanted to emulate. Someone whose values made you want to be a better man (or woman). Someone you considered to be family. Someone, who in an instant, became the target for the full breadth of your emotional onslaught. Someone who planted a loaded Judas Kiss right on your mug.

How do you feel?

In my case, I was so enraged that I was tempted to act out of my hurt and exhaust my personal resources to destroy this person publicly using a few influential relationships and a rapidly growing platform. I wasn’t going to go on a tirade, but I was going to fully expose the truth in a stealthy, succinct, devastating manner that was sure to cripple his reputation…for good. I could taste the bitter waters; they were sweet with revenge. It was going to be fun. But my mentor’s four words haunted me and stunted any chance of actual vengeance.

Chris, you must forgive.

As those words resonated in my head, I knew it was the right thing to do; you know, because I’m a good Christian boy. Honestly, though, I didn’t want to let go of the pain. Not yet. My offender wasn’t going to get off the hook so easily (according to my plan). Maybe you’re in a similar situation and you can’t break the hold of unforgiveness.

Holding Onto Unforgiveness

Often, we are baited to hold onto unforgiveness because the justified emotional payoff acts as a noose tied strategically around the neck of the offender. And in our mind, we can pull the plank at any time, causing them to plunge into their much-deserved “death” at a moment’s notice. Makes sense, right?

If we examine the scene closely, though, the truth is that the other end of the rope is actually cinched around our neck. Holding onto offense is detrimental, not to the offender, but to you and me. It’s a trap! Medical studies have proven that unresolved anger results in health issues from depression to physical issues like arthritis, ulcers, migraine headaches, and depression. At the very least, holding onto offense is a waste of valuable time. Every moment we ruminate upon the offense, playing it over and over in our head, we are spending time that we’ll never get back and repeatedly burying garbage that will eventually resurface through our lives—perhaps even years later.

Kind of like the lesson I learned from fasting.

Not so…fast

A few years ago, I took a few days to fast from all food. And while I hate fasting, I felt led to do so. By the end of day one, I noticed that I was getting quite irritable. What I learned is that the irritability had nothing to do with a lack of food. Irritability was coming out of me because irritability was in me! And that’s precisely what happens when we choose unforgiveness: garbage comes out of our mouth, out of our attitudes, and out of our posture towards life and those within it. What a waste!

Forgive or Forget?

Allow me to set the record straight: forgiveness doesn’t mean you forget. Nor does forgiveness mean that you abandon healthy boundaries or restore trust, respect, and relationship with your betrayer. It just means you forgive. And forgiveness, essentially, is the act in which we cancel the indebtedness or liability of an act. Doing so is unconventional, inconvenient, kind of messy, and seemingly unfair. But how easy it is to forget that we too received forgiveness even at our very worst. Need a reminder?

“So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.” – Colossians 3:13-14 (MSG)

You didn’t deserve or earn forgiveness, and neither did I. But because we received immeasurable forgiveness, we have the responsibility to forgive others. I get that the trouble we experience isn’t fair, but what is fair? God will settle the crime and recompense us if we trust and obey him. Desiring revenge after betrayal is normal, but we cannot afford to indulge in those feelings. Instead of fighting your own battles, let God settle the issue in His way and in His time because He promises to do so.

You and I must learn how to release the reins of offense and effectively forgive. We have to because withholding forgiveness will block our relationship with the Lord (See Matthew 6:15, Mark 11:25). No one said you can’t be angry, but don’t let your anger become bitterness and resentment, for it will ruin your life.

If you’ve been embittered by offense and cannot seem to find peace after a betrayal like I was, here’s your battle strategy:

How to Truly Forgive After Betrayal

  1. Make the Decision. Action is always preceded by a decision. You and I must silence our affections for revenge and our urges for retribution. Truth be told, we’re not very good at long-term revenge anyway. Instead, we must develop the maturity to take responsibility for the problem areas in our lives and desire to be free rather than live life trapped in a prison we created by holding onto offense. James 1:20 (AMP) says, “for the [resentful, deep-seated] anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God [that standard of behavior which He requires from us].” My friend, be slow to anger. Don’t wait for a feeling to release forgiveness because the feeling might not come. Forgiveness is not a feeling; it’s a deliberate choice for freedom. Your emotions will catch-up with your positive decision eventually.
  2. Realize It’s Not Your Strength. If you don’t feel like you have the desire, motivation, or strength to make the decision to forgive your offender, stop striving and ask God for His help. Depend on God for the grace and strength to forgive because you’re probably not going to feel like doing so. To that, depend on God for the faith to believe that forgiveness will unlock the freedom you desire in your life!
  3. Do It. And do it again and again. Write the letter, pick-up the phone, meet for coffee, and do whatever is necessary and appropriate to restore peace to your life. Remember, restoration of the relationship isn’t necessarily the goal (though it certainly can be); forgiveness and obedience to God is the goal. Another key to this step is realizing that you need to release the outcome (whatever it is) to God. Because He alone is capable of instigating a change of heart, don’t be discouraged by a perceived lack of change. Trust Him and move forward in peace with yourself and with the Lord.

Unforgiveness and offense is bait that will keep you trapped in a self-constructed prison of isolation, depression, and unfulfilled potential. But there is a way out!